The importance of having a Muse….


Emile Floge. Muse of Gustav Klimt


Vali (The five muses) Shelley McDonald 2013.

Ever wondered who or what a muse is? If there is someone out there in the world (either still living or from a time past) that seems to inspire you, then chances are you have a muse without even realising it! Many great artists and designers have all had a muse at any given time. Andy Wharhol’s muse was model and socialite Edie Sedgwick. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt was inspired by his long time partner Emilie Floge, an ‘ahead of her time’ fashion designer. Her influence can be see in Klimt’s inclusions of long flowing kaftan like dresses that were designed by Emile in many of his paintings. Audrey Hepburn was the muse of Givenchy (is it any wonder?) and more recently the Gaultier/Madonna partnership. Kate Moss is another muse to many artists and designers appearing as the subject in numerous works for the artist Lucian Freud. You only have to look around to see who pops up in the works of artists, musicians and designers to see their influences.

The word “MUSE” capitalized refers to any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences or a source of inspiration; especially a guiding genius. The word itself is at the root of “museum” a place to view artworks and artefacts.

But definitions aside, finding yourself with a muse can be the beginning of a beautiful relationship and one that can inspire endless bodies of work. I have always created images of a red headed woman usually carrying a fox in her arms. I initially attributed this to my daughter who served as my muse for many years. She had beautiful auburn hair and I found her quirky personality an endless inspiration. But as she got older I began to think of her less as my muse and my attention seemed to go in other directions. A few years ago, after viewing some of my work, someone mentioned the name Vali Myers to me. As soon as I googled her, I instantly recognised that this was in fact my muse. Without any conscious realisation on my part, I had been painting her for many years. I am utterly convinced that I had never encountered her before (because looking at her – how could you possibly forget her?). She was the read headed woman who I continually created or represented in my work. She had a pet fox called foxy who was the love of her life. She lived in a time when her passion and eccentricity was not perhaps valued as it would be today – moving to Paris in the 40’s she lived on the streets, was thrown in jail for being an itinerant, created the most unforgettable artworks and then moved to Il Positano in Italy where she lived with her lover and her menagerie of cats, dogs, roosters and fox. It is her spirit and her courage that I admire – her complete disregard for convention and determination to live without a safety net that inspires me!  She is a gift Vali, and once you get to know her, you will not soon forget her.


Vali Myers. 1930-2003.

But then I got to wondering who may have been Vali Myers’ muse? I will never of course know this, but  I imagine that someone pretty awesome would had to have inspired Vali. With her tattooed face and flowing red hair and gypsy like fashion sense…those raccoon eyes – where did she get that inspiration from?  I imagine that maybe, just maybe the elusive and ethereal femme fatale Luisa Casati (born ALMOST on my birthday, the 23rd January, 1881), may have in fact been a muse of Vali…Casati was an eccentric Italian society woman who refered to herself as a ‘walking work of art’…she shocked and delighted by parading around with cheetas on leeshes and wore live snakes as jewellery. She was the muse of countless artists and fashion designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior and John Galliano. There is something very similar about these two women – a sameness – but then Vali is like a walking work of art too.


Luisa Casati. 1881-1957

Many contemporary female artists would also name Mexican Frida Khalo as a muse. Frida has inspired me at various times in my life, her fearlessness and her determination to overcome a life filled with obstacles. She is a powerful feminist icon and again – she is like an art gallery on legs.

So do we choose our muses or do they choose us?  That may very well be the question. I think they choose us. I think that many of us create the way we do for some unknown reason – but when we come across someone from the past or someone who’s work we see and instinctively “feel” something for (sometimes like a powerful kick to the head) we have an instant recognition and understanding. Perhaps we are channelling their strong powerful creativity…if we are all connected to the universe, if we are each part of the collective consciousness, then perhaps it stands to reason that we are reaching up to that great invisible yet powerful creative forcefield and tapping into them… I like to think this is so.


Vali with Foxy. Illustration and Mural 2013.

I am currently working on a series of images called “The Five Muses”, women that have inspired me to lead a creative life. They are of course, Vali Myers (numero uno), Frida Khalo, Joy Hester (Australian artist), Mirca Mora and Seraphine De Senlis. They are all artists (painters and drawers), some of which have had a hard time (some harder than others), overcoming obstacles, illnesses and personal challenges. They remind me why I do what i do. I have also started a large mural of these five on my studio wall which I hope will be finished some time this century. The other works I hope to feature on a range of clothing – but that’s another project and as I am definitely NOT a sewer I may need to channel a fashion muse to see this one through….

So who is your Muse?  Would love to hear!!